Blu-Ray Review – Waterworld

Waterworld is often slated as one of the biggest flops of all-time, but that’s actually completely false: it’s been in profit for at least two decades at this point, and its box-office takings were far better then has often been reported. It’s a film that reunited the director and star of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and, more importantly, Fandango, the two Kevins… Kevin Reynolds and Kevin Costner. Costner had also just directed Dances with Wolves to Oscar glory, so for better or worse, his ego was at an all-time high.

I clearly remember seeing Waterworld when it first came out in 1995, and I’ve always had a soft spot for this eco-disaster post-apocalyptic tale about a gill man loner pitted against Dennis Hopper’s deranged, over-the-top villain, “The Deacon.” It owes more than a passing debt to George Miller’s pioneering Mad Max films. In fact, the project even shared the cinematographer of the second and third Mad Max films, Dean Semler, who also shot Dances with Wolves. The script went through more rewrites then even your average big Hollywood film, and Joss Whedon was reportedly the last writer hired to fix the script, coming in when principal photography was well underway. Whedon has described the seven weeks he worked on the film as “hell.”

But over the years, Waterworld‘s reputation has grown, despite the controversy over the escalating budget and the media spin of it being a disaster. The film has endlessly played on both network and cable television, which has helped Waterworld gain a small but rabid cult following. One of the TV cuts added almost an extra 45 minutes of running time to the film, and this version is included on this disc. The well-known “Ulysses Cut” torrent uploaded by “McFly89” to Pirate Bay, which spliced together the TV cut and the theatrical cut, is far closer to director Kevin Reynolds’ original vision of the film. Reynolds would walk off the film during the production because Costner was becoming too controlling over the film. Eventually, Costner took over the director’s chair.

It has a strong environmentalist message, not unlike Costner’s next foray into the post-apocalyptic, The Postman (which actually was a huge flop.) The science depicted the film is laughable, however: if the polar ice caps melted, it would undeniably be catastrophic but not to remotely the extent depicted in the film. The sea level would rise around 230 feet in total. But I think one of the reasons Waterworld has lasted so long is because, in addition to being a much better film then its reputation suggests, it’s one of the last large-scale science fiction epics that relies almost exclusively on practical effects instead of computer-generated effects. Films on this kind of grand scale are a thing of the past, and that’s why revisiting this film, or any of the great cinematic epics, just dumbfounds audiences that are used to CGI-fests. Just compare The Lord of The Rings trilogy to The Hobbit trilogy, one of the many reasons The Lord of the Rings films are so much better is that there is far more reliance on practical effects.

Waterworld is certainly flawed, and there are some scenes that will making you howl with laughter, but its scale, action sequences, and sense of fun and adventure will make you go back to the film every once in awhile.

The impressive re-release from Arrow includes the theatrical cut, the TV cut and the Ulysses cut (which I prefer) over three Blu-Ray discs. The theatrical cut disc includes the new feature-length documentary Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld, which is a very thorough examination of what went right and wrong during the making of the film. Reynolds is interviewed… Costner is not. Glenn Kenny supplies an overview of post-apocalyptic films, a vintage making-of featurette is included, and image galleries, trailers and TV spots round off the extras on the disc. The release also includes postcards, a poster and booklet with new and old pieces about the film.

★★★½

Ian Schultz

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